Crime & Courts

Chester teen pleads guilty in murder-for-hire plot

Clayton Eli Watts pleaded guilty to murder Wednesday in connection with the 2013 murder-for-hire plot that resulted in the shooting death of his grandmother. Watts is escorted from the courtroom after the guilty plea.
Clayton Eli Watts pleaded guilty to murder Wednesday in connection with the 2013 murder-for-hire plot that resulted in the shooting death of his grandmother. Watts is escorted from the courtroom after the guilty plea. aburriss@heraldonline.com

Teenager Clayton Eli Watts admitted in court Tuesday to a five-month 2013 murder-for-hire plot that ended with his grandmother shot and killed on the kitchen floor of her rural Chester County home.

Only his grandfather’s detour to a shed behind the home kept him from getting killed, too.

Watts pleaded guilty to murder Wednesday. Provided he testifies against two others also charged with murder, he will be sentenced to 30 years in prison.

And it all started because Jimmie Paul, 59, who worked at the Chester County Clerk of Court office, did not want the grandson she had adopted and raised since he was a baby to hang around with a rough crowd.

Paul sent Watts a text message in September 2012 saying she was upset that Watts’ friends had broken things at her home. She wanted him to make better grades. She wanted her grandson to shape up, clean his room, be responsible. She took his car away, his cellphone.

“She fussed at me, didn’t let me do what I wanted,” Watts said in court in response to questions from Sixth Circuit Assistant Solicitor Julie Hall.

Watts testified that he became irate as he read the text message in class at Chester High School. He was sitting next to classmate Marqueas Buchanan.

“I said I wished she was dead,” Watts testified he told Buchanan.

Then, according to Watts, Buchanan replied, “For $5,000, I will do it.”

The plot pushed forward for five months, testimony showed from Wednesday’s hearing, with Watts telling Buchanan he would pay him $5,000 to kill his grandmother and $5,000 more to take out his grandfather, Chester County Planning Director Mack Paul. In the end, no money changed hands.

Finally in late January 2013, Watts, then a high school junior, sent Buchanan, then an 18-year-old senior, a text message. It read: “I’m gonna pick you up and you are gonna help me kill my grandmother.”

Watts admitted in court that he had taken a .357 Magnum handgun from his grandparents’ bedroom closet shelf and a 9 mm handgun from the dresser. He and Buchanan discussed gloves to hide fingerprints, Watts testified, and Watts drove his car to a rural road where he had arranged to pick up Buchanan after school.

With Buchanan, Watts testified, was a stranger – Shaiderius Cohen.

“I thought I was just picking up Buchanan,” Watts testified.

Buchanan told Watts he had recruited Cohen to help with the killings, Watts testified, so Watts handed over the .357 to Cohen and the 9 mm to Buchanan.

The three drove to the Paul home and lay in wait for Jimmie and Mack Paul to get home from work, Watts said. The landline telephone cord was cut. Watts went to his bedroom, he said, and then heard three shots. Jimmie Paul was dead, Watts said, but Mack Paul was nowhere to be found.

The teens found Mack Paul outside, using a cellphone to call 911.

Buchanan and Cohen then fled, Watts said, but he went back to his room, closed the door and went to sleep before Mack Paul came inside to find his wife dead.

Testimony stopped there Wednesday, but police have said they questioned Watts, and later found Buchanan and Cohen. All three confessed, police and prosecutors have said in earlier hearings. Police say the .357 that Watts said Cohen had was the murder weapon and allege Cohen is the shooter.

Plea offers have been made to both Buchanan and Cohen, previous court testimony shows. It is unclear when each will appear next in court. All three suspects have been in jail since their arrests on murder charges soon after the killing.

By pleading guilty and agreeing to testify against both Buchanan, now 20, and Cohen, now 22, Watts avoided a life prison sentence. Buchanan had been scheduled to be in court Thursday, but that hearing and expected guilty plea is on hold because his lawyer, Cyrus Hinton, was shot and killed Sunday in Spartanburg. Police say Hinton’s son killed him.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065

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